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I was reminded this usage by the recent question asking about the origin of "-ish." Odd is often used in a similar way in the stock phrase "odd years" to mean "around" or "about" a certain length of time. For example I might say, "250 odd years" to mean "250 years, give or take." In this usage of odd, I can't really see the connection with its usual given definitions of "strange" or "not divisible by 2." Could I get some history on the evolution of this meaning of "odd"?

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Working on hunches (and therefore not a qualified answer), odd works to mean different or strange: "That man is odd." A "odd" number would be a number that is strange, off-tilt or not entirely normal. Since odd also means the opposite of even we get a dual meaning with regards to numbers. In my opinion, "odd" is similar to "some": "some 250 years." –  MrHen Apr 1 '11 at 18:10
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I give lots of answers based on a hunch (which often is just s.th. you know, but are just not aware of on a conscious level). I don't particularly like all the "I do your googling for you" answers (experts don't need to google, and they don't need to quote some other work either, they just know, hence their being called "experts") –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 1 '11 at 18:57
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@jae: I was too pressed for time to write up my own analysis, and besides, why should I reinvent the wheel if the research has already been done in a way that I find reasonably satisfying? –  Jon Purdy Apr 1 '11 at 19:09
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An expert that Googles or quotes other work is a better expert. –  MrHen Apr 1 '11 at 19:30
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3 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

From On the nature of the approximative expression num-odd:

The origin of the suffix ‐odd is, unsurprisingly, the word odd, denoting a surplus or remainder (OED entry for odd, lemma 3a). This use dates back to the 14th–15th century. Based on the OED examples, its earliest uses were with monetary items and with terms denoting weights and measures, but by the 17th century this use had broadened to include other count nouns as well. The structure of such examples is still NUM-odd-N, where odd is an adjective.

From the same page in that paper, the development:

Quite soon after the use described above, odd became used in constructions of the type NUM N1 (and ) odd N2, where N2 is a count noun of lower rank than N1 (OED lemma 3b,c). The meaning of the adjective odd is still one of ‘surplus’, ‘extra’.

(24) a. Than leveth there 38 degrees and odde minutes.

Soon N2 can be omitted and elliptically understood, giving a general sense of surplus without exactly specifying the surplus (OED lemma 4a).

(25) a. Distant sixtie miles and odde.

Since the phrase and odd denotes a surplus of the same kind (though of lower denomination) as N1, it becomes possible to shift the and odd phrase to a position immediately preceding N1, yielding the construction NUM and odd N1 (OED lemma 4b).

(26) …
b. Having ridden post day and night fourscore and odd miles…

Finally the and is omitted and odd becomes suffixed to the numeral (OED lemma 4c and paper above). This use dates from the 16th century, based on OED examples.

(27) a. Eightie odd yeares of sorrow haue I seene.

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I imagine oddments, and the related vernacular odds and sods have similar derivation. They also don't really imply strangeness (or the indeed "not divisible by 2") –  FumbleFingers Apr 1 '11 at 18:35
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I just comment that I'm not a fan of "I google for you"... and lo and behold, the link above is directly copied from google. ;-) u.arizona.edu/~fdehaan/papers/odd.pdf is the proper link (and shorter, too). –  Jürgen A. Erhard Apr 1 '11 at 18:58
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@jae: True, but I also read the paper, because it was interesting. And I had to run out immediately after posting, so I wanted to get it up here as quickly as possible, etc. Frankly, a good answer is a good answer regardless of whence it cometh, and if the OP can't be arsed to Google first, then I might as well do so. –  Jon Purdy Apr 1 '11 at 19:07
    
@Jon Purdy: Yours certainly looks like an excellent Answer, which I've only stumbled upon just now when following up on a newly-asked Question covering the same ground. But it does indicate that 70-odd, for example, means (or at least, would have meant) 70 plus at least a few more. Whereas I understand it today to mean 70, possibly plus or minus a few. Am I ignorant, or has the meaning moved on beyond what you've covered? –  FumbleFingers May 6 '11 at 14:28
    
@FumbleFingers: Most likely the latter. The phrase has undergone enough changes already that I wouldn't be surprised, and I occasionally use it that way myself: There were a dozen-odd people at the party. –  Jon Purdy May 6 '11 at 16:30
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In old legal cases, it is common to read phrases like "The horse was bought for fourteen pounds and odd", meaning "between fourteen and fifteen pounds". Presumably odd meant "small change" or something similar. Over time, the "and" was dropped. I would say that the financial context is still the commonest for this idiom, except that inflation now means that instead of fifteen pounds odd less than sixteen), we now have to talk about a hundred odd pounds (less than say a hundred and fifty).

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The even/odd terminology for divisible (or not) by 2, and expressions such as 250 odd years expression come from the same root. Suppose you have 19 things. Lay them out in two lines.

x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x

You have two even lines, and one odd thing left over. Similarly, if you have 250 odd years, this means you have 250 years, along with a few odd ones.

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And odd things are shunned or left alone, like a single unpaired object. Which might explain why oddness is used to describe this situation. Many adults are thought to be unpaired because of their oddness. It would be interesting to know if odd, as unpaired, or odd, as eerie or strange, was the first meaning of the word. –  David Luebbert May 14 '11 at 9:48
    
@David: Nice observation. Etymonline says that originally, in Old Norse, the odda-maðr, or odd man, was the one who cast the deciding vote. So the meaning "unpaired" seems to have been first. –  Peter Shor May 24 '11 at 18:24
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